Education

CMS: Reading mentors helped many students advance

Lisa Brizendine, a CMS administrator, read to Nathaniel Alexander Elementary third-grader Torian Franks last year. Torian passed the reading exam.
Lisa Brizendine, a CMS administrator, read to Nathaniel Alexander Elementary third-grader Torian Franks last year. Torian passed the reading exam. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Roughly 400 Charlotte-Mecklenburg students who had reading mentors last year moved from failing to passing scores, while hundreds more made gains without reaching proficiency on state exams, according to a Tuesday report to the school board.

The North Star reading project, which Superintendent Ann Clark launched last year, matched struggling readers with adults who read with them for an hour a week. “Reading buddies” are nothing new, but the program included detailed lesson plans that helped the adults build their students’ reading skills.

The focus was mainly on third-graders, who take state exams for the first time and, by state mandate, must prove reading proficiency to advance to fourth grade.

North Star mentors worked with 1,470 third-graders, most of whom scored below grade level on reading tests given at the start of third grade. When those students took end-of-year exams, proficiency moved from 5 percent at the start of the year to 29 percent – a gain of almost 340 students reading at grade level.

Across CMS, the third-grade reading pass rate dipped slightly, going from 59.4 percent in 2015 to 58.5 percent in 2016. That was slightly above the 2016 state average of 57.8 percent.

Most of the North Star students started the year well below grade level, so they may have advanced without hitting the grade-level mark.

The state provides other opportunities to demonstrate reading skill during the year, so 61 percent of the North Star children were deemed ready for promotion to fourth grade. Those who fell short could take summer reading, and if that didn’t help, were assigned to a combined third- and fourth-grade class.

Reading mentors also worked with almost 300 seventh-graders who had weak reading scores in sixth grade. Proficiency for that group went from 10 percent in sixth grade to 34 percent in seventh grade, an increase of about 74 students.

Administrators and board members said the value of the program goes beyond reading exams, as adults and students build trust and rapport.

“We make progress one student at a time and one relationship at a time,” said board member Eric Davis.

Clark is encouraging last year’s mentors to stick with their students and hopes to recruit a new batch to work with this year’s third- and seventh-graders. For information: http://bit.ly/1KbYaXb or contact volunteer coordinator Ana Brown, ana.brown@cms.k12.nc.us, 980-343-0474.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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